The Ethics of Military Aid to Uzbekistan

For Al Jazeera English, I take on the heated debate surrounding Western military aid to Uzbekistan:

Analysts have long debated the ethical and strategic ramifications of providing Uzbekistan with military equipment – largely unidentified but allegedly non-lethal – in exchange for a transport route to neighbouring Afghanistan. But the heated discussion that has emerged has more to do with the moral anxiety of Westerners than with the rights or safety of Uzbeks.

What is intended as activism rooted in a critique of Western militarism actually amounts to an endorsement of Western effectiveness, because it rests on the belief that the West has leverage, that our opinion matters, that the fate of nations hinges on us. The hard truth is that in places like Uzbekistan, it does not.

This does not mean that Westerners should not question whether taxpayer money should be used to support violent regimes. But that is one issue, and the welfare of those forced to live under such regimes is another. Conflating the two is a problem, because it distracts from the systematic repression that is carried out in authoritarian states regardless of foreign support. Focusing on military aid turns a complex scenario into a yes or no question, an internal crisis into an external debate. It overstates the influence the West has on foreign governments, and underestimates the capacity of those governments to harm their own people.

Read the full article, Does it matter if the West gives military aid to Uzbekistan?, at Al Jazeera English.

In other Central Asia news, I’m going to be speaking about Uzbekistan at a panel at George Washington University later this month. The panel is loosely based on my Foreign Policy article The Curse of Stability in Central Asia. Details to come!

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